For a series about superheroes, “Jupiter’s Legacy” moves in what feels like slow motion. The result is a Netflix drama that’s impressive in its scope — adding to the growing roster of dark comic-book tales — but frustrating in its sluggish pacing, oscillating between twin timelines over the course of its eight initial episodes.
Nicely cast, the series begins with a core of original-gangster superheroes, including the Superman-like The Utopian (Josh Duhamel), and their next-generation progeny, who are no slouches in the powers department. That includes Utopian’s grown kids, one of whom, Brandon (Andrew Horton), has taken up the hero mantle, while his sister Chloe (Elena Kampouris) has rebelled against it.
The Utopian follows a heroic code — he even chides his kids for foul language — but things appear to be changing. Villains have become more ruthless, and a violent act against one of them actually yields a positive response from the public, forcing The Utopian to defend his boy-scout outlook.
Who might be altering that dynamic, and pulling the unseen strings, dominates the contemporary storyline. But “Jupiter’s Legacy” (adapted from graphic novels by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely) also leaps back to the Depression, explaining how the early heroes acquired their abilities through a series of flashbacks teased — and teased and teased — over the course of the season.
At times, the show pops dramatically, whether that’s a terrific (and terrifically violent) superhero fight in the early going, the tumult surrounding the then-mortal Utopian/Sheldon’s family business and the mysterious call that sets him on the path to his next chapter.
Still, even by the standards of serialized dramas the writing inches forward grudgingly, while taking tiresome detours into the personal lives of Brandon and Chloe, whose angst-ridden relationships feel a bit too much like the stuff of a CW drama, just with more conspicuously exposed flesh and blood.
Those subplots serve as a drag on the show, which makes the last half of the season feel like a letdown after its promising start. As a footnote, executive producer Steven S. DeKnight left midway through production, which might help explain some of the tonal inconsistencies.
The Netflix series also lands at a moment when the bar for such fare has been raised in the streaming space, even limiting the competition to revisionist, jaundiced views of superheroes, including Amazon’s “The Boys” — really the standard-setter in this subgenre — and “Invincible,” as well as Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” That doesn’t count Marvel’s stepped-up if more traditional efforts for Disney+.
On the plus side, “Jupiter’s Legacy” generally looks pretty dazzling and exhibits great visual flair in portraying its heroes, with Leslie Bibb and Ben Daniels as The Utopian’s wife and brother, Lady Liberty and Brainwave, who also acquired powers on that strange journey and, like him, remain remarkably vital decades later.
Based on where the season wraps up, the show is clearly playing the long game, perhaps rightly anticipating the audience that does buy into it to be willing to stick around for the long haul.
Watching “Jupiter’s Legacy” isn’t a heavy lift. Yet even allowing for the fact that fleshing out the story works against moving faster than a speeding bullet, it would behoove all concerned to move a whole lot faster than this.
“Jupiter’s Legacy” premieres May 7 on Netflix.